On June 13, The Giving USA Foundation™ published The Annual Report on Philanthropy with the announcement that 2016 was the United States’ most philanthropic year to date. Approximately $390 billion was given to philanthropic causes, which equates to more than $1 billion per day in charitable giving!

While this represents an overall increase of 2.7% in giving as compared to 2015 levels, there should be particular optimism when one looks at the religious sector.

Giving to religion represents 32% of all giving, or $123 billion, and received an increase of 3% (1.8% when adjusted for inflation) in 2016. The Foundation has defined giving to religion narrowly, focusing only on congregations, missions, religious media, and other related organizations and institutions. If giving to all houses of worship and to all religiously-oriented charities are included, it is estimated that up to 75% of all giving could be considered religious in nature. (Examples of this include giving to social service organizations such as the Salvation Army or religious affiliated universities or medical institutions).

Three specific lessons can be taken from the data acquired by Giving USA 2017 relating to religious fundraising:

  1. While the numbers of families giving online to religion continues to increase (up 8.9% in 2016 according to Blackbaud), great potential remains to migrate more donors away from traditional methods (e.g. envelopes) and towards directly using E-Giving (credit/debit cards or EFT). The Center For Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found that of the approximately 70 million Americans that identify themselves as Catholic, approximately 36 million regularly attend church once a month. This means that it is likely these parishioners are making a contribution perhaps one Sunday in each month or at best in infrequent intervals. Registering parishioners to make a reoccurring weekly contribution online means churches can almost guarantee 52 weekly contributions regardless of an individual’s attendance.
  1. #GivingTuesday offers religious organizations a valuable opportunity to connect with donors, and has produced positive results for some congregations and organizations in recent years. Religious groups should consider setting a targeted fundraising goal for the day and encourage support through emails and social media posts to donors. Shaping a #GivingTuesday message around a specific project, case element, or cause coupled with a matching gift opportunity not only raises money, but also encourages the involvement of the entire community in a concerted spirited effort.
  1. More than any other nonprofit sector, religious institutions dominate the charitable landscape in the United States in terms of volunteering. This year’s report quotes a figure of American congregations deploying 7.5 million volunteers and sponsoring 1.5 million social programs (Brian Grim, Georgetown University).

What does this mean for fundraising? Fundraising professionals find that the more involved an individual is in their nonprofit, the higher the probability that he or she will also support the cause or organization with their philanthropic dollars. In the case of religious organizations, a targeted effort to recruit new members to committees, ministries, and active groups within the organization will lead to greater participation when it comes to “passing the collection plate.” Existing ministry members and active volunteers will also pay dividends when forming the leaders for your institution’s next capital campaign.

While competition for the philanthropic dollar remains fiercely competitive, houses of worship should take confidence in the fact that giving to religion has been increasing year over year, and still remains the largest philanthropic sector. By investing in electronic giving and creating a concerted campaign to migrate donors from traditional methods to online, there remains great potential for increased levels of consistent giving to religious institutions.

CCS recently published a Snapshot of Today’s Philanthropic Landscape, a guide to navigating the current philanthropic terrain. In the report, you’ll find data pertaining to individual, corporate, foundation, and bequest giving along with details about our nation’s high net worth donors. Also included is a close look at emerging trends related to digital giving, donor-advised funds, donor retention, as well as giving in the current political climate.

About the Author

Carl Cervi specializes in assisting nonprofit organizations in strategic development planning, campaign management, annual planning, case statement development as well as prospect research and identification, primarily in healthcare and religious sectors. Clients that Carl has provided counsel to include NewYork-Presbyterian, the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens, the Diocese of Pittsburgh and Rochester General Hospital. He is a graduate of The University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and currently lives in Queens, New York.